Sudan Sabotages Polio Campaign For Children Of South Sudan

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By Joe Odaby

Juba, South Sudan — October 15, 2013 (SSN) – The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has called on the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) to urgently reach an agreement over technical details paving the way for the implementation of a polio vaccination campaign in the two areas in November.

An African Union-backed mediation team also failed to break the deadlock between the two parties, with Sudan saying it only wants to negotiate a solution for the conflict in the two areas, while the SPLM-N demands a comprehensive process.

In a press statement released on Friday, the UNSC said it is alarmed by the imminent threat of a polio in South Kordofan, following an outbreak across the in the Horn of Africa region.

Sudan has been declared polio free, but there have been recent reports of a looming polio outbreak after the detection of several cases in Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.

UN health experts believe that failure to immunise children under five years of age in conflict-affected areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states will exacerbate the risk of polio spreading throughout the region.

In the statement, the UNSC called on the two parties “to urgently resolve differences over the technical plans necessary, including for safe passage, to implement the polio vaccination campaign as proposed by UN OCHA, UNICEF and WHO as soon as possible in order for the two-week vaccination campaign to go forward in South Kordofan and Blue Nile on 5 November as planned”.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that more than 165,000 children in South Kordofan and Blue Nile remain at risk of polio due to a lack of immunisation in the border areas over the past two years.

Last week, Sudan and members of the tripartite initiative, including the African Union, Arab League and United Nations agreed to carry out the vaccination campaign on 5 November.

Khartoum has also said the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) would be ready to observe a cessation of hostilities for the period of the campaign.

The SPLM-N rebels informed the UN there remains a need to discuss arrangements of the cessation of hostilities with the SAF, which has so far refused to participate in direct talks.

The SPLM-N, which abandoned its demand to bring the vaccine directly from Ethiopia or Kenya, has rejected the involvement of the government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) in the operation, instead suggesting the participation of forces from the UN mission in Abyei (UNISFA) and its own humanitarian organisation.

Negotiations between the Sudanese government and the SPLM-N since last April have so far failed to seal an agreement over the polio vaccination campaign.

The situation is further complicated by the failure of the two parties to strike a deal allowing humanitarian access to rebel-held areas. Khartoum insists that it remain in control of the distribution of humanitarian assistance, accusing the rebel group of seeking to benefit from aid to feed its fighters.

An African Union-backed mediation team also failed to break the deadlock between the two parties, with Khartoum saying it only wants to negotiate a solution for the conflict in the Two Areas, while the SPLM-N demands a comprehensive process.